State College of Florida president Lars Hafner survives no-confidence vote

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Embattled State College of Florida President Lars Hafner survived a no-confidence vote Wednesday during his performance evaluation by the college's board of trustees.

Trustee Dr. Craig Trigueiro made a motion for a no-confidence vote, citing a pattern of bad judgment and cost overruns, and he quickly picked up a second from Ed Bailey.

Signing someone else's name on an official document is grounds for immediate termination, Bailey said.

The debate that followed was extended, heated and emotional.

But when it was all over, the board deadlocked 4-4, and Trigueiro's motion failed.

Trigueiro cited Hafner's signing the name of Steve Harner, former board chair, on a 2010 state grant application for SCF's Collegiate School, a charter school designed to help students become the first college graduates in their families.

Hafner freely admits signing Harner's name, but said he did so under filing deadline pressure with Harner's approval and direction.

The trustees have forwarded the matter to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to decide whether criminal charges should be filed.

In the meeting Wednesday, Trigueiro also cited what he called several cost overruns, including the original $500,000 estimate for the Collegiate School that ballooned into a $5 million project, and a $70,000-$80,000 women's tennis program that became a $750,000 project.

Hafner gave an emotional response to trustees, accusing them of conducting a "revisionist" evaluation by basing it on several past years of work and not solely on the previous year.

For the previous years, Hafner said he received excellent or outstanding evaluations and that the projects Trigueiro cited as overruns were expenditures approved and supported by previous boards.

Hafner said he was hired as a "transformational leader," including adding baccalaureate programs.

"At no time was I completely operating on my own without collaboration of colleagues or approval of the board," Hafner said.

Trustee Joe Miller came to Hafner's defense, accusing Trigueiro and board chairman Carlos Beruff of doing everything in their power to "destroy the college."

Faculty and students who crammed into a meeting room in SCF's Lakewood Ranch campus erupted in loud applause in response to Miller's comments.

Beruff told audience member he would not tolerate any other such displays.

Trigueiro said another example of bad financial judgment was Hafner's role in the Design Economic Acceleration Lab, dubbed the DEAL, proposed for Lakewood Ranch.

"Virtually no mention of student teaching. Funding to be done by selling bonds, something state college had never done," Trigueiro said.

Triguerio also took Hafner to task for attempting to have the college provide him with a Cadillac Escalade, what he called terrible public relations judgment.

Hafner agreed that the Escalade incident was a mistake and said that he had apologized for it.

There was confusion from board members when Beruff asked that the board complete Hafner's evaluation.

Board member Jennifer M. Saslaw said she had been under the impression the evaluation was on hold, pending completion of the FDLE investigation.

Beruff said there was no need to delay the evaluation pending the state investigation.

"I'm evaluating for the current year," Saslaw said.

"That's fine," Beruff responded. "You have the information at your fingerprints."

When Trigueiro made the motion for a no-confidence vote, Saslaw called it "outrageous" and defended Hafner as a good leader who has helped SCF make huge strides.

Trustee Charlene J. Neal asked if Trigueiro's motion was based on the forgery allegation.

Trigueiro said signing another's name shows "astonishingly bad judgment" and also listed his concerns about the DEAL, the tennis courts, the Collegiate School and the Cadillac.

At one point, Hafner asked if the no-confidence vote was an indictment of him, or actions by the previous board of trustees.

Hafner also asked the board why, if they question his financial judgment, they had earlier in the meeting unanimously approved the annual budget he had presented to them.

Hafner said he had tried to adjust and cooperate with the board but Beruff had one time told him privately that he didn't trust him and couldn't work with him.

"We have done everything by the book and brought everything back to the board," Hafner said.

"You were in lockstep with the other board members for four years," Hafner told Beruff.

Joe Miller asked that Beruff allow members of the faculty to have their say about the no-confidence vote.

But Beruff refused and called for a vote on Trigueiro's no-confidence motion.

Voting for the motion were Trigueiro, Beruff, Bailey and Moran.

Voting against the motion were Neal, Miller, Saslaw and Ann Y. Moore.

Abby Martinez and several other students gathered in the lobby after the meeting adjourned to discuss what they had just witnessed.

The students said they had come to the meeting in support of Hafner.

"I thought it was kind of crazy," said Abby Martinez. "I felt it was very biased."

Hafner has been on thin ice with several of the trustees since they were appointed to the board by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011.

In November, several trustees asked how much the payout would be if they were to part ways with Hafner.

At that time, a payout to Hafner, who is working under a five-year contract worth $322,819 a year, would total about $1.6 million.

Hafner declined to speak to the media about the no-confidence vote after Wednesday's meeting.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet @jajones1